- Danya Perry, Director of Equitable Economic Development and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity for the Raleigh Chamber (Wake County Economic Development)
- David Williams, Director of Policy Outreach for Opportunity Insights
- Kieth Cockrell, Chief Operating Officer for Bank of America
The panel discussed efforts in both communities, especially support to small businesses affected by COVID-19. Perry highlighted the Wake Forward program, which allocated $5 million in federal funds to create a relief program for local small businesses who have lost revenue due to COVID-19. The program provided loans of up to $50,000 to small businesses that are located in Wake County and have up to 100 employees. Of the $5 million in available funds, $4 million was earmarked for small businesses, and at least $1 million will support independent contractors and sole proprietors.
Beyond programs such as these, what can other communities do to help small businesses adapt and become resilient long term?
Perry mentioned the importance of not just looking at quantitative data, but also qualitative. “Do listening tours to understand the perspective of people who are affected and challenges that small businesses are dealing with,” stated Perry. By ensuring that their stories help us shape what our programs look like, we can build an ecosystem that is responsive and understands the problem at every level.
For example, in Wake, we convened a large community of minority and women owned businesses that met monthly just to understand what they are seeing and forecasting to figure out how we can build bridges and remove barriers for their success.
How do we make sure the pandemic doesn't make disparities in economic mobility even worse for low income workers?
As Williams stated, “the data shows that this pandemic is hitting us hard and hitting the most vulnerable even harder.” Additionally, “to make sure issues of economic mobility aren’t made worse by COVID-19, we need immediate action and resources, and we need to address long-term issues like housing segregation and access to education.”
In 2014, Charlotte ranked last in an analysis among America's 50 largest cities for upward economic mobility. The city responded with lots of activity, as Cockrell described. First, they looked at the data in several economic mobility factors: segregation, family structures, inequality, social capital and school systems. After studying the data, actions can be taken such as ensuring housing is affordable for employees, and creating communities that attract the type of workforce needed for economic development. Similarly in Wake County, a countywide vulnerability index was developed to identify communities of emphasis for the implementation of equity strategies.
What are the kinds of data a community should look at to find out if they have an economic mobility issue?
“Track outcomes to get the root issues,” Williams stated. This means tracking long term outcomes to find the impact of our policies, programs and communities on kids today and how that changes their life trajectory. Then create tools that can be used locally across the country. We should be using data to get to the root issues, not just looking at the surface level indicator.
The American dream is making it up the economic ladder. However, the data shows that the guarantee of prosperity has been fading across the country for decades. To ensure that everyone has access to this dream, we need to build resilient communities that promote economic mobility. As Perry said, “we need to create practices, policies, and programs to support the full participation of all residents and catalyze small businesses as part of the whole ecosystem.” Since 2018, this has been the goal for Wake County Economic Development. Equity and inclusive prosperity is a top priority for our county and region.